Wrapped in a winter coat, Rita enters Frank’s empty office and places a Christmas card on a filing cabinet, where many others are displayed. Frank then comes through the door carrying two heavy cases, and Rita jumps to help him. “Merry Christmas, Frank. Have they sacked y’?” she asks. “Not quite,” he says, explaining that he has to go to Australia for two years as a punishment for a particularly drunken night. Julia isn’t going to accompany him. He jokes that he’ll fit right in when he goes to Australia, claiming that the country is a drinker’s “paradise.” Changing the subject, Rita thanks him for signing her up for her exams. She tells him that when she flipped the exam over, the first question read, “Suggest ways in which one might cope with some of the staging difficulties in a production of Peer Gynt.”
In the play’s final scene, Frank’s life has completely fallen apart. His alcoholism seems to have reached its peak, he’s been punished by the university, and Julia seems to have finally left him. Rita’s presence, then, is quite significant, since he cares so much for her and she has not entirely abandoned him. What’s more, he learns that the very same question he made her practice regarding Peer Gynt ended up appearing on her exam, meaning that he was, in the end, a rather effective teacher.
Rita explains that at first, she could only stare at the question on her exam and think about what Frank had once said about it. “You think you gave me nothing, did nothing for me,” she says. “You think I just ended up with a load of quotes an’ empty phrases; an’ I did. But that wasn’t your doin’. I was so hungry. I wanted it all so much that I didn’t want it to be questioned.” She then tells Frank that she recently came home to find that Trish, who is so educated and proper, had tried to kill herself.
It’s clear in this moment that Rita is no longer angry at Frank for being jealous of her private life. Instead, she thanks him for teaching her, admitting that she was “so hungry” to change, that she was slightly overzealous and out of touch with reality. Indeed, she wanted so badly to become a sophisticated, educated person, but she now knows that this doesn’t automatically lead to happiness. After all, Trish is sophisticated and educated, and yet she tries to kill herself, proving to Rita that becoming an intellectual doesn’t simply solve a person’s problems.
Frank asks Rita if she answered the Peer Gynt question by writing, “Do it on the radio,” and she says that she could have done this, but she didn’t. “You’d have been proud of me if I’d done that,” she says. Instead, she answered the exam questions in the standard, academic way, and she earned high marks, too. “It might be worthless in the end,” she admits. “But I had a choice. I chose, me. Because of what you’d given me. I had a choice. I wanted to come back an’ tell y’ that. That y’ a good teacher.” Flattered, Frank asks Rita to come with him to Australia, but she politely declines, explaining that Tiger—who she now recognizes is “a bit of a wanker”—wants her to come to France, and her mother wants her to come home for Christmas.
Frank would have been proud of Rita if she’d written, “Do it on the radio” because doing so would have suggested that Rita was remaining true to her original identity as a straightforward, blunt, and witty woman. However, Rita ultimately decides to honor herself and her own agency by answering the question correctly, thereby proving that she won’t simply do whatever people expect or want her to do. In this way, she has actually internalized Frank’s lesson that she should remain true to herself, even when this means straying from Frank’s own opinions. This is why she thanks him and calls him a “good teacher.” He has helped her realize her own independence, which is the very thing she has sought all along.
“Whatever you do,” Frank says, “you might as well take this. It’s erm—well, it’s er—it’ a dress really. I bought it some time ago—for erm—for an educated friend—of mine…” Unwrapping the gift, Rita looks at the dress and asks, “This is what you call a scholarly neckline?” Frank admits that when he was choosing it, he put “more emphasis on the word woman than the word educated.” Thankful for this gesture, Rita laments that she only ever “take[s]” from Frank but never gives him anything in return. Because of this, she tells him to sit down, finds a pair of scissors, and says, “I’m gonna take ten years off you…”
Once again, Frank blurs the line between an academic relationship and a personal relationship, this time doing so by giving Rita a dress with a provocative neckline. However, it is the case that their connection has greatly evolved over time, meaning that it isn’t entirely unreasonable to approach the relationship as a personal one. Despite the romantic overtones of the gift, it’s clear that Rita appreciates Frank’s gesture, and she even wants to return the favor. When she determines to cut his hair, she blends her working-class background as a hairdresser with her new persona as an “educated woman.” In this way, it seems that Rita has finally realized that she doesn’t need to completely give up the person she was in order to be an intellectual.